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monster awareness month

I’m glad to see the back end of February. Not because I didn’t enjoy Monster Awareness Month–in fact, I’d say it was the only thing that made February tolerable–but because, as usual, February wasn’t very kind to me in any other way.

That said, I did manage to put a bow on Monster Awareness Month in the best way possible, with the last-minute inclusion of the last piece I solicited for the event. Check out “Teratography” by none other than John Langan. I am, as you may have gathered, pretty pleased with myself.

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So, today Monster Awareness Month draws to a close. It’s been a ride, and I hope everyone enjoyed it. If you’ve only been following along here, definitely go back and check out the Monster Awareness Month website, because there are some great pieces up there.

I’m hoping that this’ll only be the first of many such months I get to be involved in. This February was a little tumultuous for me for various other reasons, but the monsters helped make it enjoyable. Whatever the future holds, though, I’ve got three more movies to write up to round out the month, so here they are:

Day 26: Pan’s Labyrinth (2007)
The second movie that I wrote up for Monster Awareness Month. Check it here.

Day 27: The Mist (2007)
I’ve seen a lot of folks who didn’t like this movie, but I think it’s brilliant. Not just a great monster movie, but a great movie period, and an improvement on the source material. The big sticking point for most people is the ending. It apparently either works for you, or it doesn’t. It worked for me.

On a side note, if you get the opportunity, I recommend watching the movie in the black & white version that’s included in the two-disc set. It’s how Frank Darabont wanted to film the movie, and it’s been fully color-corrected, so it’s not just the regular movie with the colors drained out. The shadows are as crisp and black as you could ask for.

Day 28: Cloverfield (2008)
The last movie of Monster Awareness Month. Another one I was going to re-watch and didn’t. (I did finally re-watch Jurassic Park, and still enjoyed it.) I saw this one in theatres, but only that once. I don’t recall disliking it, but I don’t recall liking it all that much either. Then again, my tolerance for shaky cameras is notoriously low, and I was already spoiled by the fact that the monster wasn’t going to be this one.

We’re getting into the home stretch here. In the meantime, my From Strange & Distant Shores column on The Abominable Snowman went live and my good friend and former employer Jeff Owens wrote a long and impassioned paen to Marvel comics monsters here.

Now, on to the movies:

Day 21: Jurassic Park (1993)
Confession time: I haven’t re-watched Jurassic Park for Monster Awareness Month yet. I planned to, and still plan to, but it just hasn’t happened. I haven’t seen Jurassic Park in years, and I mean lots of years, but it used to be a favorite movie of mine. I can still remember seeing it in theatres, before I’d seen any footage of the dinosaurs. I remember going to the theatre and getting Jurassic Park pogs, and them having a big inflatable Godzilla (which I think was supposed to stand in for a T-Rex, maybe) in the lobby.

There was a time when Jurassic Park meant a lot to me, and I could probably still recite whole sections of it to you verbatim. But as to how it holds up after all these years, I can’t speak. At least, not yet.

Day 22: Dagon (2001) & Call of Cthulhu (2005)
Dagon I did re-watch for Monster Awareness Month, albeit just last night. It I had seen only the once before, and I didn’t remember much besides some fish-people, some weird monster sex (it’s a Stuart Gordon/Brian Yuzna movie, after all), and an exposition character whose accent and drunken slurring were so thick that I could only understand about every third word out of his mouth.

It was OK. The fish people were sometimes pretty good, but mostly what saved it, to the extent that it got saved, was the decaying seaside town in which it was set. Lots of great, dreary, damp, falling-down sets and old houses and canted alleys and such, and some of the scenes where people are pursued through the streets by the town’s shambling inhabitants are pretty spectacular. Mostly, though, it just feels like a bunch of misfires, and the protagonist is super-annoying. I liked it, but it could’ve been better.

The silent Call of Cthulhu is a big improvement, though I didn’t re-watch it, having seen it recently and being short on time. Still, it’s a hell of an evocation of silent films of the time, and a good imagining of what a Lovecraft movie made when Lovecraft was alive might have been like (although given how long it’s taken us to get to making Lovecraft movies that even vaguely resemble their source material, probably not).

Day 23: The Mothman Prophecies (2002)
And again, I admit to not re-watching. This is another one I saw a few years ago, when it was new, and only the once, but I remember not being impressed, and the aforementioned time crunch led to me not being interested in giving it another go.

Day 24: Hellboy (2004)
This is the first of the movies that I wrote up for Monster Awareness Month myself. Check it out.

Day 25: The Host (2006)
I didn’t like The Host. There goes all my credibility, I know, but I didn’t, and can’t bring myself to pretend otherwise. I wrote it up for my column at Innsmouth Free Press earlier in the month, which you can find over here.

Day 19: Hellraiser (1987)
Here’s another movie about which there’s not much left to add, but I will say that if I were choosing Clive Barker movies to represent Monster Awareness Month, I’d likely have chosen Nightbreed instead. Not that Nightbreed is any better than Hellraiser, it just seems more monster-y.

Day 20: Tremors (1989)
OK, y’know the other day, when I was saying how I’d have trouble picking a favorite out of the movies from this month. Well, that’s still true, and all those movies I mentioned would be hot contenders. But Tremors would be the dark horse candidate, for sure. Maybe my first favorite movie, I actually remember seeing Tremors in the theatre, and what’s not to love about this great homage to 50s monster flicks?

Day 12 & 13: Mothra vs Godzilla (1964) & Destroy All Monsters (1968)
I passed on all the Godzilla movies that were part of Monster Awareness Month because I’d already had my fill of them when I did my Godzilla movie marathon for Innsmouth Free Press, and found that they didn’t hold up well to my memories of youthful nostalgia. I didn’t actually watch Destroy All Monsters for that, either, though I saw it when I was a kid and thought it was awesome then. Who knows what it would be like now?

Day 14: The Valley of Gwangi (1969)
Because of the vagaries of fate, I actually watched this one after Gargoyles (below), so this was technically the last of the movies for Monster Awareness Month that I hadn’t already seen. It’s a Ray Harryhausen movie about cowboys fighting dinosaurs. That probably tells you everything you need to know about whether you’ll like it or how much. For me, it wasn’t Harryhausen’s best or his worst, but there was lots to like. I think my favorite part was that Gwangi was purple. There need to be more purple dinosaurs.

Day 15: Gargoyles (1972)
What would have been a pretty good Star Trek episode is, instead, a pretty awful movie. I’m a sucker for weird roadside attractions and people finding bones of monsters, but beyond that about the only good thing I can say here is that the suits (which represent some of the first work of monster legend Stan Winston) are much better than you’d expect. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is the usual long shots of people driving around in obviously non-moving cars or climbing on rocks, and pretty much all the action takes place in a cave in the desert. So all the stuff you could expect in an episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, except without the wisecracking robots.

Day 16: Jaws (1975)
In honor of Monster Awareness Month, I finally got my wife and roommate to watch Jaws for the first time. They were both suitably impressed. The end.

Day 17: Alien (1979)
We are at this point (sort of at the point where we got to Jaws, actually) into a stretch of movies that really need no introduction, and there’s nothing I can say about them that everybody doesn’t already know. The Alien franchise was one of my earliest fandoms, and I used to love the movies and watch them all to death, but I’m also one of those people who thinks that Aliens is the superior installment, so…

Day 18: The Thing (1982)
Picking a favorite movie from off the Monster Awareness Month viewing slate would be hard. There’s Hellboy, after all, and there’s King Kong. But if I did have to pick one, and it wasn’t one of those two, then it would be this one, hands down. I think everything about this movie is brilliant, and I think that the titular monster is one of the best of all time. In a world where this movie exists, I don’t know why we ever have debates about the potential viability of remakes.

This was the second movie that I solicited something for this month, this time an awesome visual tribute from the incredible Thomas Boatwright.

I’ve had a sort of rough couple of days, so there’s been a maybe longer than usual delay here, and my heart may not be entirely in it, but I have been watching movies for Monster Awareness Month when I could, and I think these should bring us pretty close to up-to-date. Beware, there will be spoilers for The Quatermass Xperiment, at least.

Day 7: The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)
Heading into Monster Awareness Month, there were six or so movies on the docket that I hadn’t seen before. Of those, The Quatermass Xperiment (which I’ve been misspelling as “Quartermass” all these years) was the one I was the most looking forward to. Partly because it was a Hammer movie, and I have loved pretty much every Hammer movie I’ve ever seen, and partly because I’d heard great stuff about it, though I’ve heard even better stuff about the later Quatermass and the Pit, which I still haven’t seen.

I was not disappointed. To say that Dr. Quatermass himself was better than the monster might seem like damning with faint praise until I told you that the monster was a bodiless space vampire octopus! Let’s put another exclamation point in there for good measure! But seriously, as great as that is, it couldn’t outdo Quatermass storming around, yelling out orders and berating people. He was spectacular! I’ve heard that Nigel Kneale didn’t like this portrayal of his creation, to which I can only say that, with all due respect, Mr. Kneale was wrong.

Also interesting to me, at least, is how the monster from The Quatermass Xperiment prefigures the bodiless Ogdru Hem from Mike Mignola’s Hellboy mythos and, especially, the basic germ of The Conqueror Worm‘s plot. Good stuff!

Day 8: The Abominable Snowman (1957)
Another favorite of mine from the Hammer vaults. I’ll be talking a little more about this one over at Innsmouth Free Press later this month sometime (I’ll provide a link when it happens), but in the meantime I got a friend of mine to do a review of it for Monster Awareness Month. He’s actually a little harder on it than I would be, but my affection for Hammer films of all stripes is well-documented.

Day 9: The Fly (1958)
Could it really be the only Vincent Price movie in the whole month? Travesty! But seriously, this is a pretty classic movie, and while it’s maybe a little slow and talky to modern sensibilities, it sets up a lot of great scenes that’ve become justifiably famous. I need to catch the sequels soon, and re-watch the remake, which I remember being great but haven’t seen in years. A little surprised it’s not on the list for this month, and if I was putting together an alternate, it definitely would be.

Day 10: The Blob (1958)
Winner of the Best Monster Theme Song category, that’s probably the best thing The Blob has going for it. I mean, besides being about a giant jello mold from space. Which is quite a bit. I liked some of the miniature shots, especially toward the end with the Blob attacking the movie theatre.

Day 11: Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
This is another movie on the list that I (weirdly) hadn’t ever seen. I’d seen parts of the skeleton sequence, of course (who hasn’t?) and lots of shots from other parts of the movie, but I’d never actually watched the whole thing. Jason and the Argonauts is obviously a spiritual relation to Clash of the Titans, which I did see about a million times when I was a kid. And like Clash of the Titans, the monsters here are top notch, especially the hydra and the aforementioned skeleton army. But, like Clash of the Titans, the rest of the movie wasn’t as enjoyable. There’s some great bits, and some really interesting themes such as the gods’ realization of their own mortality, Jason’s defiance of the gods, and the futility of Palais’s acts of murder. But none of these are ever really delivered on, just sort of brought up and left hanging.

I think my favorite thing, besides the monsters of course, was the revised explanation for the armed men that burst from the hydra’s teeth being those who had been slain by the hydra. That was awesome!

Day 3: King Kong (1933)
The original and still the best. King Kong is one of my favorite movies of all time! I recently listened to the commentary track with Ray Harryhausen and Ken Ralston, and they pointed out that the jungle scenes were inspired by Dore, which I had never thought about, but once it was pointed out, I could totally see it.

Day 4: The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
I had thought this was one of the ones I hadn’t seen before, but I was wrong. I had seen it, but just forgotten most of it. That’s probably because it was really boring. I’m as big a fan of Ray Harryhausen as anybody, but this one should’ve been called “The Guy Who Went to the Hospital,” because that’s mostly what it was about. There was definitely not enough monster. And at the end, they rode a rollercoaster up to shoot the monster and then got out of the car. They should’ve shot the monster from the moving car! Seriously, what kinds of action heroes are these guys? (Well, one of them was Lee Van Cleef, so he maybe gets a pass.)

The dinosaur was pretty great when he was around, though, and prior to my watching it my roommate dubbed it “The Beast from the Nether Reaches of Fathoms of Which There Are 10,000 (Actually 20),” so that was something, anyway.

Day 5: Godzilla (1954)
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms totally prefigured this movie (and also The Host, but I’ll complain about The Host later). Still, the original Godzilla is pretty great. I wrote more about it a while back, over here.

Day 6: The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
I have a soft spot in my heart for this movie, probably because the Creature suit is still maybe the best rubber monster suit ever designed. It holds up better than the vast majority of special effects in anything ever, and still looks incredibly great more than fifty years later.

Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t fare as well, but we had a lot of fun heckling it and observing the homoerotic tension (whether real or imagined) between the two male leads, and also all the incredibly dumb animals, which we dubbed things like the Simple Lungfish or the Amazonian Hurpdurp Bird.

So, it turned out there were no movies in this four-day stretch that I hadn’t seen before. That’ll get rectified starting tomorrow, though, with The Quartermass Xperiment, which is the movie I’m maybe most excited about out of the whole month! Stay tuned!